Jon Embree believes racism contributed to his firing at Colorado; we don’t

Jon Embree was fired as head football coach by the University of Colorado on Sunday following two poor seasons in which the Buffaloes went 4-21. The Buffs were coming off a 1-11 season, but Embree was led to believe his job was safe. He was emotional when he learned of his fate, and raised the point that African-American head football coaches don’t often get second chances as head coaches once they’ve lost a job.

On Wednesday, Embree took that point a step further when he told the SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio show “Evan & Phillips in the Morning” that he believed his race played a role in his firing.

“I get it, you know, 4-21 is not good, but there’s a lot that went into that,” Embree told hosts Evan Cohen and Steve Phillips. “You know, Gene Chizik was 5-19 and got another job. So to say basically that it was just the record, I don’t buy that.”

Embree recognizes the season went poorly, but he attributed a lot of that to youth.

“We had some bad losses. We had some losses that we were in it for a while … I played a ton of freshman. We started anywhere from 9 to 10 a game. True freshman. It was just the situation that we were in.”

Embree also says he had the support of the athletic department despite the difficult season.

“Every week, going into my press conferences after the game, the athletic director was ‘Hey, we’re in this for the long haul. Think long-term. These kids get older.’ Every week, that same speech was given to me. So to say that it’s record, I don’t buy that.”

Asked if he thinks he would still have his job if he were white, Embree, when pressed, said yes.

“You’ll have to ask that to the guy who fired me,” he said at first. “Probably. You’d have to base that on history, and history says you get more than two (seasons).”

Embree was also asked whether he thought Colorado’s next coach would be black or white, and he guessed white.

Embree furthered questioned the firing because he says he had the full support of the boosters.

“The Colorado money guys? They were all in with Jon Embree.”

We’ll at least give Embree bonus Rickey Henderson points for going third-person.

Embree isn’t the first person to suggest that racism played a role in his firing; former Colorado coach Bill McCartney, who is the winningest coach in the program’s history, brought up that point on Tuesday.

McCartney pointed out on ESPN 102.3 FM that he went 7-25-1 in his first three seasons from 1982-1984 before turning Colorado into one of the top programs in the country. He thinks his race is the reason he got more of a chance than Embree.

“Honestly, I believe it’s because I’m Caucasian. I believe black men have less opportunity, shorter time if you will,” McCartney said. “It’s just like, Dan Hawkins got five full years. Why not give Jon Embree five years? You signed him to a five-year contract.

“Men of color have a more difficult road to tread. It didn’t happen to me. Why should it happen to a black man?”

McCartney continued to defend Embree to The Denver Post.

“For people to evaluate what he’s done so far and be critical about it is so unfair,” McCartney told The Denver Post. “You’ve got to be blind. You’ve got to be stupid to think that this is a reflection on his coaching. It’s not.

“”It was bankrupt,” McCartney said. “If he had quality players who were older guys, he would’ve played them. The younger guys were better and had more potential but weren’t ready.”

McCartney offers the best defense of Embree that I’ve heard. However, one must take into account that McCartney coached Embree at Colorado during the ’80s, and helped Jon get the head coaching job. Embree is his guy, and Embree’s performance is a reflection on McCartney’s recommendation. He’s completely biased in the matter.

I think Embree’s firing comes down to one thing, and it’s not race. It’s performance.

Embree’s teams performed terribly. They went 4-21 over two seasons. His team was blown out by a combined score of 206-23 in losses to Washington, Stanford, Oregon, and USC this season. They were destroyed by Fresno State 69-14. 69-14! By Fresno State!

Colorado was the biggest joke in the conference since Paul Wulff was at Washington State.

Embree may have been brought into a bad situation, but he made it worse. Do you know what good coaches do? They improve situations, they don’t make them worse.

Maybe Colorado decided to fire Embree because they reevaluated the season and decided there were too many bad signs and decided they didn’t have the right guy in place. Maybe they realized they made someone who didn’t even have any coordinator experience into a head coach before he was ready. Or maybe they looked back at the last two years and decided they knew they could find somebody better.

The school says they didn’t hire Embree because he is black nor did they fire him because he is black. I believe that. How can the same school that took such a chance on an unproven, minority coach be accused of racism for firing him after he performs poorly? That makes no sense.

If Embree wants to say he wasn’t given enough time to turn things around, he might have an argument. If he wants to say that the school lied to him about his future, I believe him. But for him and McCartney to turn this into a racial issue is irresponsible. They’re missing the bigger picture if that’s what they’re trying to do here.

Their real gripe should be that head football coaches in general aren’t given enough time. Just look at Gene Chizik, whom Embree cited. Chizik was fired two seasons after leading Auburn to a 14-0 season and a national championship. He went 30-10 over three seasons, and then was canned following a 3-9 year. Was he given enough time to turn things around after one bad season?

Fans and administrators have no patience these days. They want coaches fired after one bad game. There is a demand to be shown improvement, and to be shown results immediately. If a coach isn’t performing, he gets the ax. That’s how it goes these days. Embree and McCartney would get farther if they complained about that issue.

For the record, I thought Auburn was crazy for hiring a coach who went 5-19 at Iowa State, and I think they did the right thing by firing him after this season. Outside of the perfect season thanks to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, Chizik was questionable.

This is not about race, it’s about performance. If you’re not getting the job done, schools will try to replace you with someone who they think will do better. That’s what Colorado is doing.

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  • art shannon

      I understand his frustration at not being given more time to improve an inherited problematic program, but whining and playing the race card will not improve his chances of landing another HC job.  He made a very good salary while employed there and he should be thankful he even got the opportunity, considering his lack of coordinator experience.  As for McCartney’s comments, things are changing unfortunately.  Money and rabid fans have created a much shorter leash & patience level. It is a “what have you done for me lately mentality”.  Many coaching hires are made through connections, such as yours as an alumnus, but you still have to produce results pretty quickly or else.   I am sure a “white” Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson expected to get more than 1 year before being canned, and he had an impressive resume as a coordinator.  It happens. Life isn’t always fair.  The coaching industry is unique in that it pays big money on potential even before a game is ever played. They then get huge buyouts to go away.  How many people in the business world or teaching profession would get $1.7 million dollars to not come to work like Univ. of KY just agreed to do with their fired coach Joker Phillips.  I’m sure Skip Holtz thought he would get more time, or Auburn’s coach after a recent NC win. It’s just the nature of the beast. A love/hate relationship.  Just like the back-up qb is the most popular guy while the starting qb gets scrutinized over every play.  So do coaches.  The most popular coach is usually the one you haven’t hired yet. Suck it up Embree.